Saturday, November 25, 2006
There is an open mic in Westford tomorrow (Sunday) night where I hope to perform. I will play Capricorn and County Down. I am planning to take the Froggy, though without electronics (yet) it will have to be mic'ed. No problem - this guitar puts out a ton of sound, easily as much as many much larger D or Jumbo style guitars. Speaking of electronics... I am planning on getting a K&K installed some time in the next couple of weeks. From what I hear, K&K make the highest fidelity acoustic pickups, and they happen to be on the low end price wise... a double win! I think the guy at the store quoted about $100 installed. And they supposedly put out enough signal that you don't need to pre-amp before heading into the house system! I will still probably use the Baggs PADI, for the notch filter and XLR out if nothing else.
Looking forward to a nice morning of music - will practice set for tomorrow night (3x each tune), and then just have fun on the new guitar.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Played a few tunes I've been working on the in traditional Irish vein... Cunla/Merrily Kissed the Quaker, Rakkish Paddy, Murtagh Mckann, the Last Pint, and the Orphan. It is always great to try to perform a tune for someone and then see it fall apart in your hands! Well, I have fresh resolve now to polish up these tunes and make them performable. The big problem is I want to be able to play them all the way through now, which means I sort of fudge-over the bits I can't play right yet when I am by myself practicing. This is unacceptable. Starting Tuesday (remember, marathon schedule...) the metronome is coming out and we are going to burn this music into the muscles deeply and perfectly. Then and only then will the tempo resume.
The search for a new guitar continues, albeit somewhat in the background for now. There is a particular instrument from Newfane, VT which continues to haunt me...
Saturday, November 11, 2006
In my brief sabbatical from performing I've been taking the opportunity to work on new material. I attended the David Surette guitar/mando workshop two weeks ago, which was really excellent. David is a fantastic teacher and a very capable musician, certainly one of the best fingerstyle guitarists I've seen. I picked up some traditional Irish/New England music to work on there, as well as a wonderful book of transcriptions in treble clef and tablature.
I've also started in on Murtagh McKann (Bensusan's arrangement for DADGAD, from the big guitar book). I can read through the first two sections, which are in D, and have started to wander a bit into the next part, which modulates to G. This tune is a fun and lively number. It is not super complex harmonically; rather a single melody line is followed and most of the work of the guitarist goes into making the melody dance while paying attention to all the great ornaments. It will also be a good exercise, I hope, in modulating to a different key in DADGAD.
Work has begun, minimally, on a DADGAD arrangement of Kingsfold (I feel the winds of God today) in the key of A major. This permits some really great moments where the low 4th (D) is played on the open 6th string - an arranging technique I've always enjoyed, that is, playing in a key where the lowest note available is not the tonic.
Visited Maple Leaf Music Co. in Brattleboro, VT last night and played two really amazing guitars: a Indian/Engleman Bourgeois OMC and a Goodall Concert Jumbo (CJ) with the same wood combo. The Bourgeois is certainly the more comfortable to play due to the slimmer body depth. Surprisingly, it holds up quite well against the larger CJ in the bass range. The Goodall certainly has a more complex sound, with lots of beautiful overtones and bright, eager harmonics. The OMC, in great Bourgeois form, has a more balanced sound from high to low, with plenty of warmth. I hope to return to the store today and try out a few other promising-looking guitars, as well as play these two again. The Goodall is, I am guessing, a bit more expensive than the OMC, and I am a bit scared of Goodalls after talking to the sound guy at the Surette workshop/concert. His experience was that, while beautiful in acoustic tone, they tend to be very hard to amplify well, even with K&K pickups (which I am pretty much sold on for the new instrument). Perhaps I will do more internet research on this, because this guitar, whatever it turns out to be, absolutely has to amplify well. Its purpose is to be a solid, reliable, great-sounding soloist instrument for when I perform.
I've also been working pretty hard on Merrily/Cunla. I am now experiencing the 80/20 effect in full force. I am trying to take "the slower you practice, the quicker you'll get there" to heart.
The "Fare thee well" guitar/cello collaboration is also proceeding well. Will hopefully meet again soon for a third rehersal. This duet combination has so much potential, because of the similar range of the instruments and their complementary strengths. But volume balancing is proving a slight problem. Amplification may help, as may a slightly louder, more resonant instrument (SJ anyone?) ;-)
Friday, October 20, 2006
- County Down
- The Dance of the Capricorn
- The Day after the Feast/Kadourimdou
- Bright Field
- Castle's Call/Pilgrims Flight
- Fare Thee Well
- (encore) A Smile
I think that The Day after the Feast would have gone alright, but at that point I was battling heavily with the sound, which was less than ideal. At first, I couldn't hear anything coming from the mains or monitors, which really threw me on Capricorn, because it is such a punchy rhythmically driving piece. THEN, when I turned my preamp up, this buzz appeared everywhere, so I just killed my pickup and used an instrument mic. So, shaken from my second tune, it was very difficult to try to regain composure for Feast, which requires, as I've mentioned before, a high degree of right hand control.
After that, everything went pretty well. I originally had Chasin' the Groove in there, but bailed because I was still feeling a bit freaked about the sound. I think that was the right decision. I worry that it cost me some energy later in the set, but the response from the audience was good.
This experience was a good one also in terms of tuning my expectations for an open mic feature. The key is that people aren't there to see you, by and large - they are there for the open mic. This is a good thing to keep in mind so that a proper set of expectations can be built.
Other things to work on: my interaction with the audience is very sparse, and I would like to talk more to them, and draw them in more.
That's it for now. Thanks to everyone who came out last night... it was great to see you and play for you!
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Everyone who reads this blog and is free next week should come out to see me as the feature performer at Amazing Things next Thursday 10/19. Even though the bio is talking about someone else, trust me, I am really the feature!
I am looking forward to participating in a guitar workshop given by David Surette later this month at ArtSpace in Greenfield, MA. It should be good - I've heard David's work on the web and on a CD/Book called Pierre Bensusan presents DADGAD music, which features many great players, including Brooks Williams and Phil Keaggy, two of my personal favorites.
A while back I mentioned working out the diatonic scale patterns in DADGAD tuning. I'll give some of my thoughts and maybe a diagram or two here:
The first thing that sticks out at one when trying to work this out, is the two places where intervals between strings diverge from standard tuning (6->5 and 3->2). The 5th from 6->5 is a difficult problem, since it presents quite a stretch to acheive a half-tone or whole-tone interval especially at the lower frets. This problem is easiest solved through the use of the open 'A' string. This solution is unfortunately specific to key (and not applicable to every key), so I'll circle back at some point to address it. For now, I'll deal with moveable forms where the tonic is located on the 5th ('A') string.
The 3->2 whole-tone is much easier to deal with, and in terms of melody arrangement, is one of the reasons DADGAD is such an interesting tuning to play in. The 3->2 transition sorts the scale patterns into two groups, based on whether there is a half-tone or whole-tone interval at the point in the scale where one crosses from the 3rd to 2nd string.
There are two modes where this transition is a half-tone:
The remaining five modes all place a whole-tone interval between the 3 and 2 strings:
Mixolydian: mmmmmmmmmLydian: mmmmmmmmmmAeolian:
A close inspection reveals there are two approaches present for playing across the third and second strings: the most common taken above is to use adjacent fingers (with a bit of a stretch - if you are serious about DADGAD, get used to it!) to play the interval on the same fret; this is used in all but the Aeolian (or minor) mode where a bar of the first finger is used instead. A quick analysis will reveal that this approach is also valid for the Dorian and Mixolydian modes but will not work with Ionian or Lydian at all. Conversely, the two-finger adjacent string approach used in all the other modes may easily be applied to Aeolian as well.
So, if you're so inclined, play around with these patterns, combine them into Segovia-style scale exercises with one or more position changes, get comfortable with all the modes of a single major key. In a future installment of esoteric DADGAD fretboard analysis I'll delve into the topic of dealing with that nasty 5th between the 6 and 5 strings, and perhaps even go into scales played "harp style" with maximum use of adjacent strings (DADGAD lends itself especially well to this use).
Enjoy! And come out next Thursday to see me play!
Thursday, October 05, 2006
1. Exercises - right hand, scales (G major, one octave), run from the end of Kadourimdou
2. New tunes - mostly Merrily/Cunla, with a little Hymn 11 at the end
3. Old tunes - Great is Thy, Frenzy at the Feeder, Rakkish Paddy, Voyage to Ireland
Thursday (10/5) - Two 20 min sets, DADGAD:
1. Exercises, scales, and Kadourimdou
2. Merrily/Cunla, The last pint, the day after the feast (just play at end)
Monday, October 02, 2006
The feature, Dan Gonzalez, asked if I played any Bensusan, so I stuck around for round 2 to play one for him, even though I had not planned to. I picked the Day after the Feast. It was OK, not what I would have liked. There is a lot of control required in the timing of the right hand, because there are all those arpeggios interspersed with melody/bass in Pierre's arrangment. You need to be relaxed and keep your concentration so that the right hand does not rush or lag behind, either of which will throw things completely off. Somehow, it gets easier in the 'B' section of this tune, because it is more straight-ahead chord+medoly arrangement. So, 'A' section is all right hand, 'B' is all left hand, and guess what, that means the piece actually starts out harder and gets a little easier towards the end!
Saturday (9/30) - Drove down to Acoustic Music in Guilford, CT to look at guitars. It was on the one hand a wonderful experience to play so many great instruments. But after a while it leaves me with a strange feeling - a weariness of trying to judge the flaws and attributes of so many amazingly crafted instruments. At a certain level, you know that any one of these will bring you much joy, and will shape your playing as part of the musician-instrument relationship over time. It is not good or bad, just different. How do you decide what kind of different you want? The practical reality of price is one way... can I really afford a $5000 guitar right now? No... I had an interesting conversation with the shop owner, though, where he was telling me about Pierre Bensusan's guitars and how until the Kevin Ryan that he now plays, he was playing pretty standard factory-production Lowdens. Nothing super fancy... it was his playing that mattered. It is still that way, though one might argue that the Ryan offers a kind of expressive range that is opening new doors in his music.
But it makes me tired thinking of all this... I find I am tired of thinking about things recently. Thinking about my calling as a musician, thinking about what is justified in terms of a second guitar, thinking about stage nervousness, thinking about everything. I was once introduced by a friend as "This is Tony; he thinks more than anyone I know" Ha! Flattering and sad all at once. God has given me this intensity of thought and of feeling, and that translates into an extreme sensitivity in both areas. Sometimes it just makes me totally exhausted.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I played County Down and Great is Thy Faithfulness. Oliver did an amazing job on the sound - it was the best I have ever heard from on stage! They have these really nice studio-quality instrument mics, so that certainly helped. My rhythm was a bit off, and I goofed up the descending run with harmonics at the end of Great is Thy, but I was able to carry a good energy for the most part. At least on County Down... one guy I talked to afterwards said he thought the second piece I played was 'too boring' for the open mic crowd, but others said they liked it! I thought it did not 'swing' like I want it to, but I figure, it's ok. Last night was mostly about playing in a new place and working on performance nerves. I was expecting my playing to be a bit sloppy, but I still hate that it was.
The other performers were very good - there were a few other instrumentalists (guitar), both fingerstyle players. TCAN seems like a really good scene and I hope to visit many times again in the near future.
Friday, September 15, 2006
While I'm injured and not making much progress at the moment towards acoustic guitar virtuosity, I'll share a few thoughts on sustainable practice and injuries. Turn the clock back about 7 years... college senior Tony has just discovered fingerstyle guitar and alternate tunings and is going nuts practicing Bach, Michael Hedges, Phil Keaggy tunes and all kinds of stuff. But I've got a problem: I want to play this stuff now, and it takes a while to build the technique necessary to play this kind of material. Result: I practiced continually, often way after pain in my wrists and hands has been telling me to take a break. Often, I'd become angry that I couldn't play what I wanted to, and practice through the anger, tensing up and using way more pressure than needed to form chords. As a result, by spring 2000, my wrists were a mess, and I had a deep sense of failure and dissatisfaction with my playing. So, even though I am not Catholic, I decided to fast from all guitar playing for the season of Lent.
A couple of things came out of this fast: first, I had a chance to re-evaluate the maniacal importance I was placing on being an impressive guitar player. It gave me a chance to re-discover music in a sense. And I was surprised by how well my memory and technique survived the six weeks of rest. This was key in allowing my mind to relax a little about keeping up a crazy practice regimen. I read about Segovia, Bensusan, other amazingly great players and how they practice six, seven hours each day. There are a couple of important points to call out here:
1. They don't also work a full time job as a computer programmer (which I do, and which alone and take a real toll on the wrists)
2. They probably didn't wake up one day in college and say, from now on I will play the guitar for seven hours a day (in other words, it was probably not a cold start like I attempted)
As a result of my foolishness and the nature of my day job, I still need to constantly balance my desire to play guitar endlessly and the physical limitations with which I must come to terms.
I never play my guitar when I am angry now. Never. There is no excuse for this; one must have inner peace of mind in order to make music (even angry music), and not injure themselves.
At a party a few years ago, I met a guy who was training to run a marathon. He told me he had a specific schedule that took up him and down on different days in terms of mileage. The schedule also had days of rest. A typical week might look like:
day 1 - 4 miles
day 2 - 6 miles
day 3 - 4 miles
day 4 - rest
day 5 - 5 miles
day 6 - 8 miles
day 7 - rest
Day 6 is always the most mileage - eventually it is a full 23 miles. And the total miles per week goes up and down with a pattern similar to (though not exactly the same as) the pattern within a single week. Fascinating I thought - here is a strategy that exercise science has come up with to deal with the problem of ramping up to an event that requires extreme stamina. So I decided to apply it to guitar practice. I simply multiplied the miles by 10 minutes (or 15 or 20, whatever) and there is how much I practice each day.
Recently (since this August) I have been undisciplined about keeping this schedule, but I have mostly stuck to it for the past several years. I still don't quite know how to integrate performances into it (there is a kind of energy that takes over when you perform that allows you to go much longer, but afterwards I am pretty tapped).
Anyone reading this is welcome to post a comment and share what your practice strategy is.
I look forward to hearing about it!
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Met an unbelievably good pianist named Don. What fluidity and grace on the keys! I look forward to seeing him play again on Thursday nights.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
- Kept messing up the beginning bass riff! The transition between just the bass line and bass+chords continues to give me trouble. It is a much different way to orient the left hand and this definitely needs work
- This time the 7/8 section was relatively smooth. Now I just need to work on all the other difficult bits!
- The triplet based riff in the transition from the A section to the B section in particular, as well as the two fast descending runs (/6 and /5) need work, as does the fast scale section at the very end
- A little bit slower tempo was a great help in establishing and maintaining the groove during this tune. Overall, it seems I am making good progress on this tune.
- First of all, good response from the audience I felt on this medley. The first song was rougher than the second, for sure. Much attention and control is needed to maintain the correct timing with all those arpeggiated notes that just sort of hang out there. Practice it slow? I don't know what the correct approach is here. Perhaps the metronome...
- Voyage to Ireland came across better than expected for a first time performance. The ornaments need some work, but I think I was struggling with the super-light gauge of my new strings and that did not help. I should study more variations for this tune.
- It is hard to tell from behind the main speakers, but this one suffered perhaps most of all from the lack of tone in the lighter strings. The first string was 'thwacking' and 'plinking' a lot. Other than that, the tune went pretty well, certainly much better than the first time I played it at Amazing Things. Parts that need work are the 5 fret pull-off riff that appears before and after the B section, and the section with all the fast four note pull-offs towards the end. I should slow this part down and work on getting all the notes to sound out with clarity.
NPR had an interesting piece on designing the space of the home to fit the needs of one's individual personality. It made me think on what makes a space good or bad for practicing, jamming with other musicians, performing... Perhaps I will try to dig up some writing on the net on this subject. I can't be the first one to think about this!
With Cunla/Merrily now committed to memory, my guns are now trained on Hymn 11.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Sunday - played at church, but didn't practice later.
Monday - 20 + 35 min. DADGAD - Frenzy, County Down, Merrily/Cunla, Kadourimdou, Feast/Voyage, Hymn 11, and improvisations around scale/mode patterns. I will post diagrams of mode patterns for DADGAD tuning sometime soon. It is very helpful to have worked them out.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
There appeared to be no (or a very short) feature, so there was time for another round. I had not intended to play, but the open mic host wouldn't let me leave until I had played two more! I should have done this anyhow... I played Capricorn and Great is Thy. Both were played well, though my guitar tone felt weak, and I was a little out of tune (I actually plugged in all my electronics on stage because I wasn't set up ahead of time; this is the solution to not being in tune!) It may just be time for new strings. Interaction with (what was left of) the audience was good during my second (two song) set. Great is Thy seems to be an arrangement people can connect with.
I am hoping to go guitar shopping two weeks from Saturday. I am thinking these days how nice it would be to be able to have a DADGAD and a standard-tuning guitar ready for action!
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
There is the one about the big mailbox... I can talk about the crazy guy who used to order seeds from huge catalogs so he could scatter them all over the yard at my folks' house. Come see me play and you might just hear it!
Taking today (Friday) off from playing. Headed up to N. Turner Maine tomorrow. Will bring guitar and play much over the weekend.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Wednesday - 60min + ~20 in Guitar Center. Same stuff as yesterday, pretty much. Some drop-D on a cedar/rw Taylor in Guitar Center (Canarios, Aguinaldo)
Guitar Center is about the most unpleasant music store in the world. Everyone there called me "man" or "dude", there seems to be no policy restricting the disproportionately loud plunking of teenagers on electric guitars and basses, and for some unfathomable reason, you must give your full name to the cashier when attempting to buy a set of strings.
Me: "Is it really necessary that I spell my name out for you?"
Cashier: "Um, sorry dude, but that's sort of like, the rules"
Me: "I don't understand; I don't have to give my name anywhere else when I try to buy something"
Me: "Fine; my name is on my credit card. Here"
Cashier: "Sorry about that dude"
I am hoping sometime this fall to make another trip down to Acoustic Music in CT. It could not be more different. The guy who runs the place is great, the atomosphere is living-room nice, the sympathetic resonances from dozens of hand-built guitars make the one you're playing sound dangerously good (dangerous, because it is not going to sound like that when you bring it home!)
They have a cedar/rw Goodall GC that looks very interesting, and the Dancing Crane, as far as I can tell, is still unclaimed. Perhaps there is hope for my DADGAD guitar aspirations yet...
Monday, August 14, 2006
Maybe when I am ready to start recording material, I should go off in the woods somewhere; at least change my surroundings and make sure to be some place where the beauty of creation can soak in. There is no better source of inspiration.
I have decided that Martin SP fingerstyle strings are good, and I am going to keep using them for now. I stayed mostly in DADGAD this week, practicing Cunla/Merrily heavily, as well as County Down, Kadourimdou, The Last Pint, the Rakkish Paddy, and Capricorn. Also worked on Hymn 11 and Sentimentales, though it was a pain to not really be able to spread the whole score out to read through. The Irish jigs are nearing the polishing phase, which means hopefully I can start playing them at open mics maybe next month. I hope to return to open mic playing this week. Rakkish, Capricorn, and Kadourimdou?
Camping also has left me with a strong bump to the head, complete with minor concussion and three stitches. I now have to find a doctor to remove the stitches this Friday. I am doing much better since Friday when it happened, but I am still taking today (Monday) off work to rest before becoming more active once again.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
My mind is super fuzzy because I've broken the cardinal rule of practice by having 2 margaritas with dinner. I think that is why I practiced so many different things... lack of any reasonable attention span!
Will rest Friday (tomorrow) in preparation for travelling to ME, for a week up in the woods by the lake. The forecast is excellent, so I have high hopes. The Bourgeois is coming along, so besides reading, walking, talking, sitting, and sleeping, I will be able to get in much guitarring.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Monday, July 31, 2006
Some first thoughts on recording candidates:
- County Down
- Fare Thee Well
- Great is thy Faithfulness
- And did those feet/Canarios medley
- Merrily Kissed the Quaker/Cunla
- The Rakkish Paddy
- The Last Pint
- I feel the winds of God today (Kingsfold)
- Be thou my vision
I seems I know a lot of guitarists but not many other types of musicians... perhaps meeting new people will happen though networking, or getting involved in the kinds of musical communities where I'm likely to meet such folks (did I hear 'Irish pub jam'?)
Sunday, July 30, 2006
A good project for me would be to go through the DADGAD section and start identifying the repeating shapes and add arpeggios and scales (diatonic and pentatonic). Perhaps Adam could even be convinced to add these to his guide (if I ever get around to transcribing them!)
Friday 7/28, 20min right hand warm ups and County Down. Shannon's sister has come to stay with us this weekend. We are going to the Lowell Folk Festival tomorrow. I am really looking forward to seeing some good music and eating some good food!
Saturday 7/29, 40min, Capricorn, Sentimentales Pyromaniaques, Merrily/Cunla. I have begun to think about putting together a recording of some of the music I've been working on these past few years. It would be heavily Irish/Celtic themed, though not exclusively (I would want for Great is thy faithfulness to make an appearance, for example). I am excited by the idea of enlisting a few other musicians to enrich the guitar arrangements. More on this to come...
The folk festival was good, though we were only able to stay for Saturday afternoon. The highlight was seeing Liz Carroll and John Doyle perform together. What a treat! These two are as deeply steeped in Irish music as you can get, and their interplay was truly amazing to watch. I am going to have to get some of their recordings to soak more of this music in...
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
The Martin Fingerstyle strings are a new thing for me. I was offered the option when selecting the strings that would replace the ones that were on the Bourgeois when I took it in to be worked on. Let's go try to find out how they are different and why that is better for fingerstyle players...
According to Todd over at Maury's Music, these strings are designed to be more flexible (easier to press and bend?) and longer lasting. Not sure how they accomplish the latter point (the color of these strings is much more towards yellow/gold than the more bronze/gold of the regular sp's), but the former is served by a thinner solid core and thicker windings. So far, I find them to be very easy to play, but lacking in a certain power and/or brightness, especially on harmonics and when played hard. Todd recommends medium gauge - this sounds scarry to me. I may go back and forth a couple times between regular SP and fingerstyle for comparison's sake before making up my mind.
Tonight, two 25 min sessions and one 20.
1: right-hand warm ups, F major scales (DADGAD) in 2 octaves, Great is Thy, sections of County Down, Frenzy at the Feeder, and The Last Pint.
3: Capricorn, Kadourimdou, stretches.
Friday, July 21, 2006
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
- Right hand warm ups (four-finger arpeggio patterns, two finger single string picking, two finger string crossing)
- County Down
- Great is Thy
- The Dance of the Capricorn
- Rakkish Paddy
- The Last Pint
- Kadourimdou (cut off partway through on account of supper being ready ;-)
Here is a good article written by luthier William Cumpiano that offers a thorough discussion of neck angle and playability (among other topics).
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Monday - rested
Tuesday - ~30min, DADGAD: Last Pint and Kadourimdou. Bad concentration, too much Charles Shaw with dinner. It probably merits a mention that alcohol should never be consumed on a practice night (or at least not more than one drink, and not until after practice)
Wednesday - ~25min, Merrily/Cunla - played through several times.
Thursday - nada
Friday - L'Abri lecture night (no guitarring); very good presentation by Matt Dickerson on the writings and influence of George MacDonald.
Saturday - ~25min, Merrily/Cunla + ~30min jamming with a friend up in the woods of Shutesbury. I played Dance of the Capricorn for him, and we jammed for a bit on Zoe, Ten Penny, O Leaozinho, and the opening bars of Field of Flowers. A little over a year ago, we started learning the two part arrangement of "Field of Flowers" that appears on Keaggy's Lights of Madrid album (from the transcription included as a PDF on the CD!). Our running joke has been that I made it about 75% of the way through learning my part, and got no further, while he proceeded to learn the entire piece. Which is funny because the whole project was my idea in the first place! The joke was reversed on him recently when he did the same thing with another friend and a Bach piece. Somehow it is harder to finish a piece when playing it with a friend is your idea!
On Saturday I dropped my Bourgeois off at Fretted Instruments Workshop for a refret and neck reset. Regardless of the possible purchase of a cedar-top guitar in the future, I decided that this work was important for me to have done on the Bourgeois, as I plan to keep it for a good while longer. I am told the work will be done in a couple weeks, so I am going to take a brief sabbatical from guitar playing. Well, maybe I will break out the nylon string a few times... I hope to do some reading as well in the time otherwise spent playing guitar.
Monday, June 26, 2006
From Object Oriented Design and Analysis course this morning: always find 4 possible solutions to a problem before choosing one. This has very interesting implications for guitar playing. Will begin to apply tomorrow to Cunla/Merrily.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Interesting essay from Australian Guitar Journal, which appears to be a classically oriented guitar site. Particularly thought provoking are some of the comments about interpretation:
"As soon as [young] players feel equipped to play the standard repertoire pieces, they listen to recordings of famous guitarists and try to copy them, regarding their interpretation as the "right" one. Often the difficulty of the pieces is underestimated and it is also not realised that parroting another's performance can hardly lead to musically convincing playing."
Here, here! The world of classical music continues to surprise me. I like to think there is a general consensus among good musicians independent of particular tradition that true music expression requires freedom within form. Looking in from the outside, classical music often has seemed to me very tightly scoped in its form -- sometimes too much so for my taste. But the first time I actually saw a classical performance (thankfully a good one, though I can't remember exactly what was played or who was playing it... violins were involved, I believe) the freedom aspect was very evident. It is the way such performers play that has inspired and informed my approach to the guitar, much more than the repertoire.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Few people suspect what the study of an instrument demands. The public watch the music-miracle in comfort, never dreaming of the ascesis and sacrifices which the musician must perform in order to make himself capable of accomplishing it…
Don't you agree with me that there is in the world of Art today a great crisis which threatens the love of work, and that we musicians might set an example of morality in this field? It is impossible to feign mastery unless he who undertakes that adventure supplements the generous gift of the gods by the stern disciplines of lifelong practice.
But as for us pianists, violinists, cellists and guitarists – how many hours of pain and self-abnegation, how many weeks, months and years do we spend polishing a single passage, burnishing it and bringing out its sparkle? And when we consider it 'done to a turn', we spend the rest of our lives persevering so that our fingers shall not forget the lesson or get entangled again in a brambly thicket of arpeggios, scales, trills, chords, accents and grace notes! And if we climb from that region of technique to the more spiritual sphere of interpretation, what anguish we experience in trying to find the soul of a composition behind the inert notation, and how many scruples and repentings we have before we dare to discover what does not lie hidden in the paper!-Andres Segovia
In some sense this is what I intend for this journal to be about. I want to keep things focused very specifically on my guitar life and those other aspects of life which I feel have some influence therein. It is intended to be both self-reflective, and a public record of the work and striving of a guitarist who is doing music solely for the love of music, and for the sublime satisfaction of perfecting an art (and in so doing to imitate some part of the Creator-image, which gives the Creator both pleasure and glory).
Lackluster renditions last night of Frenzy and Great is Thy. Upon reflection I have discovered the following (possible) explanations:
- We arrived at the space about 10 minutes before the open mic began. This was an inadequate amount of time to settle into my surroundings and properly warm up.
- I did not take the time to polish these pieces carefully prior to going out last night. In this case, doing this should have required at least 2-4 practice sessions.
Tonight I am taking off of practice. Will resume on Saturday.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
50 mins playing after dinner, all DADGAD. Cunla/Merrily, Last Pint, Kadourimdou, Great is Thy. Much better energy than Sunday. Had coffee around lunch time and green tea when I got home.
~90 mins total: right-hand four-finger patterns, two finger alternations on single string, string crossing. Worked on F major scales again, not as long this time. No big speed increase. Could divide the beats by five for maybe one or two times up and down, but it would fall apart after that.
Played County Down, Great is Thy, Capricorn, Rakkish Paddy, Cunla/Merrily, Kadourimdou. Pretty good energy. Afternoon coffee helped (~4pm) I think.
New strings (they always feel so good!) ~17mins to change
Going to Amazing Things. Trisha and Phil from my very first open mic are headlining. They are a terrific combination - beautiful harmonies. Phil is a Keaggy and Brooks Williams fan. So perhaps I will attempt a little Frenzy at the Feeder. Whatever happens, I think I would like to stay in DADGAD at least for my first two songs. Frenzy/Great is Thy + County Down?
Monday, June 19, 2006
Discussion with coworker today: he mentioned athletic training where an athlete's movements are filmed and analyzed in slow motion to identify problems. His comment was that this information is useless to the athlete - there is an intermediary required to prescribe drills and exercises that can correct the flaws in technique. The formation of good exercises is a very significant problem for athletics and music. Perhaps I will try to read more about athletic training techniques like these.
Friday, June 16, 2006
1. Exercises and scales. Practiced all 6 four-finger patterns on open strings 1-4:
As well as 3-octave scales in D major, and single-string right hand alternations: (i-m, i-a, m-a)
2. Merrily Kissed/Cunla - not quite all the way through this one. All but the last page. This is an excellent exercise in hammer-on and not too complicated cross-string melody picking.
3. Kadourimdou - I usually start this one pretty slow and pick the tempo up as I warm up to all the stretches and position changes. Over 25 minutes this means playing it through about 4 times.
Concluded with Bensusan stretching exercise descending from 12th and 11th frets.
I think I will post scale fingerings in DADGAD inspired by Segovia's scales at some point.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
At the show I asked Brooks if he could play "The Drowsy Bee" but it is apparently out of the active repertoire. I want to find out from him (if you read this, Brooks, just post a comment!) how many pieces he is able to keep performance-ready. I have no idea what kind of goals to set in this area. I would love to learn The Drowsy Bee since it is in DADGAD and I have always liked it quite a bit (and hey, no one else is performing it!)
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Took half the day off yesterday to rest before the show. Pruned the house plants and watched a couple concert videos (Bensusan and Renbourn) for inspiration. It is amazing how as I perform more for an actual audience, I am perceiving more from watching these great players perform (at least I think I am). In particular one thing I have noticed is even guys like Pierre and John aren't playing everything spot-on all the way (which I knew before), but what I notice now is their reaction to little off-balance moments and lapses in concentration or precision. There are many ways to react to such moments. The easiest and most natural for me is to just get flustered and fumble for the last part I felt comfortable with. But these guys have learned (or maybe it is a natural instinct) to react very quickly and just keep going, find your center again, and play on.
My opening set last night seemed to pass by extremely quickly. There were a couple moments, in Great is Thy and County Down I think, where catching my balance again took a bit too long, but things mostly went according to plan. After playing four tunes, I was ready to make an exit, but Michael insisted I play one more! It ended up being the Rakkish Paddy - not one that I had expected to be playing, but it came across alright considering. Lost my place for a second at the end of the first loop in the B section (that little descending run), but otherwise it was ok. The audience seemed really into the material which I am grateful for.
One of my spiritual mentors back in Amherst was really into golf and he used to talk about how golf was 20% physical and 80% mental. I think performance is very much like this - there is a huge mental component in terms of letting go of the ego and not giving in to nerves before all that technique you spend so long building can really come out. Being in a situation like last night is really the best teacher for this. I am slowly "getting it" ;-)
Thursday, June 08, 2006
A large number of folks have emailed asking for directions or how to buy tickets, or to say they will actually be there, so I am expecting a good turnout (Brooks alone packed the place out last time).
I am taking as much time off tomorrow as I can manage so as to be fresh for playing. I find that so long as I have been keeping up a regular practice regimen, the single most significant thing I can do to help my playing is just to not play for 2~3 days. Beyond that I think a little technical edge starts to soften. But it is not as bad as I would have thought, and at one time greatly feared. The six weeks I took off of playing during the season of Lent my senior year at Umass had much less of an impact than I had worried it would in terms of technique atrophy. I have found that certain things just take a long time to build up and you don't lose them too quickly. It is usually good to always have a mixture of long term (delayed gratification) and short term (instant gratification) projects (tunes) in the works.
I hope to see you at Amazing Things tomorrow night!
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Yesterday 80mins, half standard, half DADGAD, weight training and 15 mins cardio. Good practice, good concentration. It is clear something must be done about the guitar situation. The little buzzes, action on the high frets, intonation and whatnot. Whether it is a $500+ fixup of the Bourgeois or a new instrument remains undecided...
Played June 9 set for Shannon on Monday morning. It seems not only is it possible to experience living room relaxation on a stage, but you can get all stage-freaked in the living room, too! Her observation was that Kadourimdou seemed to sap my confidence, and the performance of County Down and Fare Thee Well that followed were uncharacteristically weak. And I went for 30mins (Michael has given me 20 to open the show, maybe one more song if I am hot). So, the obvious decision is to leave Kadourimdou for another time. I have been viewing it as a singular personal challenge to play it at this show. It has indeed gotten much, much better in the time since I resolved to do so, but there are many other challenging aspects to next Friday night, so I feel this is a good decision. Played Fare Thee Well a few times afterward to shake off the post-freaked-out jitters to good effect.
Planning on another light night tomorrow, should stay in standard, Chasin' the Groove a few times and work on Ten Penny and some sort of solo for Zoe. On Friday, it is off to VA to see Shannon's cousin get married. Undecided as to whether the guitar will travel with us. Leaning towards yes, but these long drives can get pretty brutal, so I want to be careful. Still a few days to decide...
Monday, May 29, 2006
Playing with Brooks on Saturday was a bit tense. I played him Great is Thy Faithfulness to start off. Had to retune partway through on account of new strings. Very positive reaction - he responded strongly to how the arrangement moved from darker tone to more confidence and light towards the climax, in order to mirror the ideas in the words to this great old hymn. I was so glad this comes across! It is very gratifying to have someone immediately perceive the intention behind a piece.
We will play three songs together on June 9th: Zoe, Ten Penny Bit, and Chasing the Groove. Chasin' I am especially looking forward to, though some riffs towards the end need work on my part. One of the hardest things about playing with someone as capable and interesting as Brooks is not getting distracted by the cool stuff they are playing!
We briefly discussed live solo performance and the idea of attaining the "living room" level of comfort before an audience. The good news is, Brooks has confirmed it is indeed possible! I believe that greater frequency is necessary in order for the disruptive elements, the sound system and the presence of an audience, to become "normal." Even when one reaches comfort with these, however, there are still disruptions which encroach some nights. Brooks alluded to ways of foreseeing and mitigating against such circumstances. I will have to find out more about this.
It has also occurred to me that my (ADD) ability to tune out my perception of external activity could be of great utility in this matter. If I can only figure out a way to reliably harness it.
Shannon demands I perform my entire set for her so I can begin working out the kinks. We are now in the "end game" and I am happy to oblidge. Looking forward to seeing UMass friends tonight.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Went to Guitar Center and bought a new metronome. It is a very small BOSS model with a digital display that shows a virtual swinging needle. You can tap in a tempo, and there are a surprising number of settings for time signatures and beat divisions. And it has a volume knob! Overall it is definitely superior to the (now broken) model it replaces. It has assumed a permanent spot clipped onto the new full score music stand that is now sitting in the studio.
Tomorrow travelling out to Amherst to practice with Brooks for the show on June 9. It will be good to play music with Brooks again after so long. I am still conflicted as to the acquision of a second guitar - perhaps he will have some insights to help me process.